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10. Peter's Vision
1Now there was a certain man in Caesarea, Cornelius by name, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, 2a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. 3He saw in a vision openly, as it were about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in unto him, and saying to him, Cornelius. 4And he, fastening his eyes upon him, and being affrighted, said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are gone up for a memorial before God. 5And now send men to Joppa, and fetch one Simon, who is surnamed Peter: 6he lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side. 7And when the angel that spake unto him was departed, he called two of his household-servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; 8and having rehearsed all things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. 9Now on the morrow, as they were on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour: 10and he became hungry, and desired to eat: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance; 11and he beholdeth the heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending, as it were a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth: 12wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts and creeping things of the earth and birds of the heaven. 13And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill and eat. 14But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common and unclean. 15And a voice came unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, make not thou common. 16And this was done thrice: and straightway the vessel was received up into heaven. 17Now while Peter was much perplexed in himself what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood before the gate, 18and called and asked whether Simon, who was surnamed Peter, were lodging there. 19And while Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. 20But arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting: for I have sent them. 21And Peter went down to the men, and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? 22And they said, Cornelius a centurion, a righteous man and one that feareth God, and well reported of by all the nation of the Jews, was warned of God by a holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words from thee. 23So he called them in and lodged them. And on the morrow he arose and went forth with them, and certain of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. 24And on the morrow they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius was waiting for them, having called together his kinsmen and his near friends. 25And when it came to pass that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26But Peter raised him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. 27And as he talked with him, he went in, and findeth many come together: 28and he said unto them, Ye yourselves know how it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to join himself or come unto one of another nation; and yet unto me hath God showed that I should not call any man common or unclean: 29wherefore also I came without gainsaying, when I was sent for. I ask therefore with what intent ye sent for me. 30And Cornelius said, Four days ago, until this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in bright apparel, 31and saith, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. 32Send therefore to Joppa, and call unto thee Simon, who is surnamed Peter; he lodgeth in the house of Simon a tanner, by the sea side. 33Forthwith therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all things that have been commanded thee of the Lord. 34And Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. 36The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all.) -- 37that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. 39And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree. 40Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, 41not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins. 44While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word. 45And they of the circumcision that believed were amazed, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit. 46For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47Can any man forbid the water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we? 48And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
4. And he beheld, and was afraid. Luke expresseth his attentiveness in plain words, that we may know that it was no vain imagination which came upon the man as he was sleeping or doing some other thing. The fear wherewith he was taken 655655 “Terror quo correptus est,” the terror with which he was seized. proceeded from the perceiving of the majesty of God; 656656 “Ex sensu Divinae Majestatis,” from a sense of the Divine Majesty. for so soon as men conceive the presence of God, they must needs be afraid and cast down with fear. And whereas his words do no whit terrify us, that must be imputed to our sluggishness, because we do not know nor perceive that it is God which speaketh. But the godly, to whom God revealeth himself in his word, do tremble when they hear it, as Isaiah saith, (Isaiah 66:2, 5.) Furthermore, the sight of God is unto them terrible, not that they may always lie confounded, and be swallowed up of fear, but only that they may humbly address themselves to reverence him.
What is it, Lord? It appeareth plainly by this answer, that Cornelius’ mind was touched with religion; that he knew that he had to deal with God. Therefore the common translation hath it evil, 657657 “Haabet male,” is inaccurate. Who art thou, Lord? And it is likely that that which is there read was put in instead of this, forasmuch as in the Greek text there is no doubtfulness, whereby the interpreter might be deceived, and all the copies agree together in this reading, τι εστι. And assuredly, when Cornelius perceived that it is God, he submitteth himself to obey; as the answer is nothing but a commandment.
Thy prayers and alms. Because God seemeth to be after a sort deaf, unless he answer our petitions by and by, hence cometh that speech, that our prayers come unto him, and that he is mindful thereof. Furthermore, the angel assigneth this as the cause why God vouchsafeth to show to Cornelius the light of his gospel; because he hath heard his prayers and accepted his alms. Whence we gather that virtues and good works do not only please God, but that they are also adorned with this excellent reward, that he heapeth upon us and enricheth us with greater gifts for their sakes; according to that, “To him that hath shall be given,” (Matthew 13:12.) And again,
“Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many things,”
For God doth after this sort extol his by a continual course of his gifts, as it were by certain steps, until he bring them to the top.
But the Papists abuse this place two ways; for because God respected the prayers and alms of Cornelius, so that he endued him with the faith of the gospel, they wrest that unto the preparations which they have invented, as if a man did get faith by his own industry and power, and did prevent 658658 “Antevertat,” anticipate. the grace of God by the merits of works. Secondly, they gather, generally, that good works are meritorious in such sort, that the graces of God are increased in every man as he hath deserved. In the former they are too childishly deceived, whilst that they feign that the works of Cornelius were acceptable to God before he was illuminate by faith. And we need not to fet [seek] a proof far to refute their ignorance; for he could obtain nothing by prayer unless faith went before, which only openeth the gate for us to pray; and Augustine weigheth that well and wisely, who derideth Pelagius, because he said that faith was obtained by prayers before it was in man in any measure: Who (saith he) will seek a physician save he who is already healed in some part? And it is the health of faith which teacheth us to knock. Furthermore, the fear of God and godliness do plainly prove that he was regenerate by the Spirit. For Ezekiel giveth 659659 “Vendicat,” claimeth. this praise to God alone, that he frameth the hearts of men to fear him, (Ezekiel 32:40 [sic].) And Isaiah saith, that the Spirit of the fear of God resteth in Christ, (Isaiah 11:2,) that we may know that he can be found no where save only in his members. Therefore it is too great folly to feign a man in the person of Cornelius, who, having nature for his guide, can attain unto eternal life, or endeavor to come thither. Therefore they reason blockishly, that we are able to prevent the grace of God with the merits of works.
As touching the second error, when as they imagine that every one of us is increased with greater graces as he hath deserved, it may easily be refuted. First, we deny that we have any good works which God hath not freely given us; secondly, we say that the right use of gifts cometh from him also and that this is his second grace, that we use his former gifts well. Thirdly, we deny that we deserve any thing by our works, 660660 “Conciliant,” procure. which are always lame and corrupt. Good works do indeed purchase for us the increase of grace, but not by their own desert. For they cannot be acceptable to God without pardon, which they obtain by the benefit of faith. Wherefore it is faith alone which maketh them acceptable. 661661 “Quae pretium illis statuit,” which gives them their value. Thus did Cornelius obtain more perfect knowledge of Christ by his prayers and alms, but in that he had God to be favorable and merciful to his prayers and alms, that did depend upon faith.
Furthermore, if good works be esteemed [estimated] by faith, it is of mercy, and not of merit, that God doth allow [approve] them. For because faith findeth no worthy thing in us whereby we can please God, it borroweth that of Christ which we want. And this is too perverse, that though the Papists have this word merit every now and then in their mouths, and cease not to puff up fools with a vain confidence, yet they bring nothing whereby the studies of men may be moved to do well. For they leave their consciences always in a doubt, and command men to doubt whether their words please God or not. Must not men’s minds need faint when they are possessed with such fear? But as for us, though we take merit from works, yet when as we teach that there is a reward laid up for them, we prick men forward with an excellent and sharp prick, to desire to live well. For we address ourselves then joyfully to serve God, when we are persuaded that we lose not our labor. And whereas there appeareth at this day no more plentiful abundance of the gifts of the Spirit, but that the more part doth rather wither away, we must thank our unthankfulhess for that. For as God did crown Cornelius’ prayers and alms, and holiness, with the most precious pearl of his gospel, so there is just cause why he should suffer us to starve, being brought unto hungry poverty, when as he seeth us abuse the treasure of his gospel wickedly and ungodlily.
Yet here may a question be asked, Whether faith require the knowledge of Christ, or it be content with the simple persuasion of the mercy of God? for Cornelius seemeth to have known nothing at all concerning Christ. But it may be proved by sound proofs that faith cannot be separated from Christ; for if we lay hold upon the bare majesty of God, we are rather confounded with his glory, than that we feel any taste of his goodness. Therefore, Christ must come between, that the mind of man may conceive that God is merciful. And it is not without cause that he is called the image of the invisible God, (Colossians 1:15;) because the Father offereth himself to be holden in his face alone. Moreover, seeing that he is the way, the truth, and the life, (John 14:6;) whithersoever thou goest without him, thou shalt be enwrapped on every side in errors, and death shall meet you [thee] on every side. We may easily answer concerning Cornelius. All spiritual gifts are offered unto us in Christ; and especially whence cometh regeneration, save only because we are ingrafted into the death of Christ, our old man is crucified? (Romans, 6:5, 6.) And if Cornelius were made partaker of the Spirit of Christ, there is no cause why we should think that he was altogether void of his faith; neither had he so embraced the worship of the true God, (whom the Jews alone did worship,) but that he had also heard 662662 “Quin aliquid simal... audesset,” without having at the same time heard. somewhat of the promised Mediator; though the knowledge of him were obscure and entangled, yet was it some. Whosoever came at that time into Judea he was enforced to hear somewhat of the Messiah, yea, there was some fame of him spread through countries which were far off. 663663 “Longe dissitas,” widely separated. Wherefore, Cornelius must be put in the catalogue of the old fathers, who hoped for salvation of the Redeemer before he was revealed. And it is properly 664664 “Improprie,” improperly. [improperly] said of Augustine, that Peter grounded his faith; whereas it had now before a firm foundation; although Augustine thinketh as we do in the thing itself, who affirmeth plainly, that Cornelius could not pray unless he had faith, in his Book of the Predestination of Saints, and other places.